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On Parenting, issues regarding emotional resilience are often discussed as something of great value, a lifelong gift to give to one's child, and I cite studies and articles to help parents learn what resilience is and how to teach it. I define resiliency as a kind of positive mind set which allows a child/person to maintain a healthier outlook in the face of stress. For example, resilient kids see setbacks as learning opportunities rather than failures, feel that they have agency instead of helplessness, avoid negative self-talk, etc.

It seems to me (totally uninformed opinion coming) that much older people are less likely to be able to change their psychological habits/traits. (It's a cognitive bias I have.)

I know from my own dogs that it's quite possible to teach an old dog new tricks (my 13 year old Border Collie could learn new tricks in a few minutes), but so far, I've not been able to find anyone willing to fund a grant involving clicker training patients my age to learn new ways to cope with unwanted emotions or negative experiences. (J/k about the grant. And the clicker training/operant conditioning, but with clicker training, there is no negative feedback except for lack of reward.)

If someone can point me in the right direction to literature demonstrating how to successfully increase resiliency in elderly patients, it would be much appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ The concept of "cognitive reserve" is often discussed especially in an aging population - is this the same sort of thing you have in mind? The associated research typically comes in two flavors - 1) how do folks that start with advantages in, say, education fare, and 2) later life cognitive efforts and prognosis. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Sep 30 '19 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause - If by cognitive reserve (or physical resiliance of the brain), you mean (in rough learning theory terms) working memory and loss (or not) thereof with aging, ten no, that's not what I'm talking about, thanks. I'm fairly well versed in that area, having undergone my own lengthy dementia work-ups and discussions with a neuropsychiatrist. I'm specifically asking about the ability to change how one handles/processes emotions and experiences when advanced in age. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Sep 30 '19 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause - Yes, that's correct. Is this clearer? $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Sep 30 '19 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think so! $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Sep 30 '19 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD - Thanks for directing me to that helpful answer. :) Aging is not for the faint of heart. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Oct 4 '19 at 3:11
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This isn't quite my area of expertise, but I did find a couple recent papers that attempted to use behavioral interventions to improve some measure of resilience in older populations and showed positive results:

Luskin, F., Reitz, M., Newell, K., Quinn, T. G., & Haskell, W. (2002). A controlled pilot study of stress management training of elderly patients with congestive heart failure. Preventive cardiology, 5(4), 168-174.

Perez-Blasco, J., Sales, A., Meléndez, J. C., & Mayordomo, T. (2016). The effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on improving the capacity to adapt to stress situations in elderly people living in the community. Clinical Gerontologist, 39(2), 90-103.

In addition to one showing an effect of a physical intervention, which makes sense since physical and mental/emotional outcomes tend to be highly correlated:

Roh, S. Y. (2016). Effect of a 16-week Pilates exercise program on the ego resiliency and depression in elderly women. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 12(5), 494.


In summary, it seems like it's possible to improve psychological habits in older adults, though I didn't find anything comparing older to younger populations, and the vast amount of literature in this area seems to be focused on measuring and correlating measures of resiliency with other health outcomes, rather than improving it directly. Seems like an important area for future work.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for this most helpful and encouraging answer! $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Oct 4 '19 at 2:41
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Bit too long for a comment, so here it is. The following quote from Yuval Harari's Homo Deus is skeptical about what you call "elderly people and learning resilience":

"Of course, by 2033 many new professions are likely to appear — for example, virtual-world designers. But such professions will probably require much more creativity and flexibility than current run-of-the-mill jobs, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old cashiers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if they do so, the pace of progress is such that within another decade they might have to reinvent themselves yet again."

The reference that he gives is: E. Brynjolfsson and A. McAffee, Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy (Lexington: Digital Frontier Press, 2011)

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, Sams, for answering. No one needs to tell me I can't learn new technology; I've often admitted that I'm tech-illiterate and a technophobe! :) So I have no doubt that you're right. But I'm referring to something much less... obvious. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Oct 3 '19 at 14:11

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